Loving the Earth from a Rooftop Garden

My rooftop garden has been a meditative journey, just like my yoga practice that teaches me: patience, freedom, strength, balance, flexibility, gratitude, self-determination, awareness, courage, respect and love. That is all a mouthful — but it is true. My challenges and joys are real, similarly to my farmers who I have become in awe of. Once I started growing my own food, I began to feel more connected to the earth, even though I'm gardening from a 360° sky view. Loving the earth from above has its advantages. Sometimes I feel as if I'm in a tree house, gardening with the birds who will sit on the trellis at times while I snip and clip. The bees always find their way to the top and buzz around the chicory puntarella that I let flower for pollinators. When I look below I see the wild turkeys and deer look-up with curiosity as they go about their business eating yard bugs and clover. If they only knew what was growing on the rooftop; the turkeys might know because they do perch in the trees at times. The deer, no chance, unless Rudolph is real.

I'm sure some of you are wondering why my husband Chris and I decided to create a rooftop garden. When we began designing our sustainable home Sheridan Green we always knew we wanted a garden. As we got to know the property intimately we noticed many deer and an abundance of other wildlife that would have enjoyed a free salad bar. Instead of fighting with Mother Nature's creature's (who we are very fond of) we raised our garden to the roof.

Last year, was the first season we began to grow our own food and it surely was a learning curve. I was not focused — so much— on the varieties (heirloom vs. hybrid) I was planting, but more of the what's in season, when and how. After that growing season I pondered on varieties and the: why does it make more sense to plant an heirloom (open pollinated) tomato over a hybrid? My go-to farmer Stephanie Gaylor of Invincible Summer Farms, the Long Island Regional Seed Consortium and Salt of the Earth Seed Company is my mentor and friend. She grows rare varieties of vegetables for her farm, for seed trialing and preservation, and seed breeding. I'm in awe of her perseverance to resist the usual and plant to preserve food diversity as an action and a practice.

Heirloom for me means: more nutritious, open-pollinated so I can save the seed from year-to-year, locally-adapted to our terroir (seeds that have been selected to grow well in our region), exceptional taste, and the historical and culinary stories of these varieties that have been grown for many centuries from around the world that we can cherish for years to come.

This year, my (two) 5' x 18' garden beds are filled with rare heirloom varieties like: eggplants, beans, snow peas, tomatoes, greens, leeks, peppers, fennel, tomatillo, chicory and kale. The majority of the plants and seeds are provided by Stephanie, and a handful are seeds I saved from last year. Soon, a fall crop of carrots, beets, kale, greens, and radishes will be planted.

I'm passionate about varieties that are on the Ark of Taste, an international catalogue of endangered heritage foods that are maintained by the Slow Food movement that is designed to preserve at-risk foods that are sustainably produced, unique in taste and history and part of a distinct ecoregion. The Long Island Cheese Pumpkin is a local variety that is on the Ark of Taste and was saved in the 1970's by a local seed saver Ken Ettlinger. I partnered with the Long Island Regional Seed Consortium as an Ambassador and Coordinator for The Long Island Cheese Pumpkin Project to spread the word about this pumpkin through educational events and grow outs to revitalize this variety from the farm and garden to the palate.

Aunt Molly's Ground Cherry (part of the nightshade family, tastes like a tomato crossed with a pineapple and a strawberry) is on the Ark of Taste and is being grown in my garden, along with the Shinnecock Currant Tomato that was grown by the Shinnecock Indians here on Long Island and a variety that I will be nominating to the Ark of Taste when I proudly attend as a Slow Food East End delegate at Terra Madre Salone del Gusto in Turin, Italy. Stephanie Gaylor has adopted this orphan variety that is on the verge of extinction, (only one or two people in the world have this seed) and has been cultivating its viability for the past four years in hopes to be released in 2017 (it takes approximately five years to cultivate a seed; grow, save the seed and repeat).

Terra Madre Salone del Gusto is the most important international event dedicated to food and gastronomy that is composed of exhibitors from five continents, numerous events dedicated to the wealth and diversity of global cuisine, conferences examining issues around food production, forums of Terra Madre’s food communities and how our food is made, preserving biodiversity and securing a better food future for everyone.

The theme of this year's edition is Loving the Earth.  A perfect theme for a girl who loves the earth from a rooftop garden.


Lunga Di Napoli Coffee Cake

The best coffee cake I've ever tasted is made by the talented pastry chef Rachel Flatley (Cronemeyer) of Nick & Toni's restaurant in East Hampton. I met with chef Flatley and chef de cuisine Bryan Futerman at the restaurant to discuss how they make their compound butters. Chef Flatley made a compound butter with honey harvested from Nick & Toni's beehives and verbena from the restaurants garden. She then paired it with her breakfast coffee cake that was made with blackberries and raspberries from Oysterponds Farm and flour from Amber Waves Farm. The result was a crunchy, cinnamon-y, moist and buttery sweet cake with bursts of berry flavor. If you want to Compound Butters Without Fear, you can read my article in Edible East End's, Fall 2015 issue


The filling for the coffee cake can be made with What's in Season. For autumn, my harvest of choice was
apples and an heirloom Lunga di Napoli (Long Pumpkin of Naples), an Italian winter squash that is grown by Stephanie Gaylor of Invincible Summer Farms, who is a voracious seed saver of heirloom and rare varieties of vegetables. She grew the squash after speaking with two European farmers who raved about this orange-red fleshy 20-50lb squash that is musky and sweet, (similar in taste to the familiar butternut squash) and is shaped like a giant bowling pin that at times can have a slight arc and skin color that is grey/green with dabs of yellow. It was also noted that the Lunga di Napoli is at risk of being endangered, just like our Long Island Cheese Pumpkin that is in the Ark of Taste, an international catalogue of endangered heritage foods which is maintained by the global Slow Food movement. The Ark is designed to preserve at-risk foods that are sustainably produced, unique in taste, and part of a distinct ecoregion.

Just like the common zucchini that is sliced and diced in cakes and breads, yellow/orange fleshed squash can be used too. I flash bake the apples and squash for 10 minutes in the oven to wilt before baking in the cake. This helps to break down the sugars. I also substituted the sour cream for whole milk yogurt, the pecans for walnuts and added a pinch of nutmeg and ginger for the filling.

I made a compound butter of cinnamon basil and maple syrup to accompany the coffee cake. This paired well with the squash and apple filling.

Don't be afraid to experiment. If you see a not-so-common vegetable or fruit at a farmstand, or your farmer is growing a new variety, support them in their efforts to help expand our palates. In doing so, we will support biodiversity. 

RECIPE: LunGa Di Napoli Coffee Cake (adapted from Pastry Chef Rachel flatley (Cronemeyer) of Nick & Toni's)


For the batter

  • 4 eggs
  • 8 ounces whole milk yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla

Dry ingredients

  • 11.25 ounces all-purpose flour
  • 8.75 ounces sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon salt


  • 6 ounces butter, softened
  • 4 ounces whole milk yogurt

For the filling and streusel

  • 3.75 ounces all-purpose flour
  • 5.25 ounces sugar
  • 1.75 ounces dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon of ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg


  • 1.75 ounces dark brown sugar


  • 1 ounce butter, cubed and chilled
  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 5 cups of yellow squash, chopped
  • 1 apple, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of canola oil


  1. Whisk together eggs, 8 ounces whole milk yogurt and vanilla. In a separate bowl mix together dry ingredients.
  2. Add the butter and 4 ounces whole milk yogurt to the dry ingredients and mix on medium speed until it comes together.
  3. Add the egg mixture in 3 parts, scraping down the bowl often. Mix on medium-high speed until light and fluffy (about 1 minute).
  4. Preheat oven to 350°. Chop squash and apples and dress with 1 teaspoon of canola oil. Bake for 10 minutes so the squash and fruit is slightly wilted.
  5. Place the flour, sugar, brown sugar and cinnamon in a food processor and pulse to combine.
  6. Take 1 cup of the mixture and put it in a bowl with the other remaining 1.75 ounces brown sugar—set this aside for the filling.
  7. With the rest of the mixture still in the food processor, add the butter and walnuts and pulse to combine—set aside for the streusel topping.

    To Assemble
  8. Spray a cookie tray and place parchment on the bottom and then spread ½ of the batter in the pan. Spread the filling, the squash and apple on top of the batter.
  9. Spread the remaining batter over the filling. Top with streusel topping.
  10. Bake at 350° until springy to the touch, golden brown and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.



  • 1 pint of heavy whipping cream
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • 1/4 cup of chopped cinnamon basil (if this herb is not in season substitute with 1 tablespoon of cinnamon)
  • 1/4 cup of maple syrup


  1. In a stand mixer place the heavy cream and a pinch of salt. With a whisk attachment blend until the butterfat separates from the milk, approximately 5 minutes.
  2. Take the butter and squeeze out the buttermilk through a fine sieve or cheese clothe. Then take the butter and wash it in a cup of ice cold water. Repeat until water is clear.
  3. Place butter in a bowl or back in a clean stand mixer with a paddle and blend the basil and maple syrup. Once incorporated, Using plastic wrap, roll the butter into a log. Freeze for when you are ready to use them. You will be able to slice into round disks to use on anything.